Today, I began year three of my seminary education. It is a journey that has been both frustrating and rewarding, and sometimes both in the same breath, but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now in my life. Right now, I am being formed and shaped as to what it means to preach and proclaim the Word of God to the people of the congregations that I will have the privilege and joy in participating in ministry with.
If there is one thing that I have learned in the practical application of ministry it is that as a preacher we have an obligation to care the Word we are proclaiming. We must take care that we do not harm or do damage to the Word by placing our will, our agenda, and our ideology before Scripture. When we address a congregation from the pulpit, we could be stepping into a very dangerous position if our hearts and minds are not centered on the love and grace of the Triune God.
I mention this because of the controversy both mainstream and in Christian media regarding recent sermons by Steven Anderson, of Phoenix, that has advocated for the death of President Obama. (Here is a link to the sermon.) Anderson, during the August 16 sermon, said, “If you want to know how I’d like to see Obama die, I’d like him to die of natural causes. I don’t want him to be a martyr, we don’t need another holiday. I’d like to see him die, like Ted Kennedy, of brain cancer.”
If you think that is about the worse of it, think again.
Anderson also has said, during a sermon about Obama, “Let his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. Let his children be continually vagabonds and beg.”
This is a message that does not preach, nor should it ever be proclaimed from the mouths of anyone called to vocational ministry. This is a message that does not preach love. This is not a message that preaches transformation and forgiveness. This is not a message that even preaches loving your enemy.
No, this is a message that preaches hate, violence, bigotry, and ignorance in the guise of preaching love. It is wrong. It is immoral. It is sad.
My heart breaks when I hear something like this being proclaimed from someone behind the pulpit. On one side you have the congregation. What message of God’s love are they being taught? How are they growing and becoming disciples of Christ by this preaching? How are they joining in Christ-likeness?
Sometimes when we see and hear of bad preaching, it is easy to stop and think of only the pastor and that pastor’s wrong doctrines, theology, or ideology. Yet when there is bad preaching being proclaimed, when hate is being taught over love, there is a congregation – a community of believers – that has been hurt. When we proclaim bad theology, it is not the pastor, alone, who is impacted, but an entire community of believers and to a larger extent their network of people that surround and support them.
My heart breaks.
My heart breaks for the pastor. It is easy to get frustrated, angry, or even distraught when something like this is proclaimed, and those are all right and proper emotions to feel. I wonder what makes someone preach in this way. What is going on in their heart that would express this type of behavior or attitude onto a congregation?
I do believe that this is a fringe pastor who should not be compared to the thousands of pastors who dedicate themselves to proclaiming and teaching the Word out of their relationship with God. There are most pastors who are proclaiming love on Sundays than this type of hate. Let us not believe for one second that it is the other way around.
But when stories like Anderson’s sermon grab headlines, we who value good and effective preaching and teaching should use it as a case study as to how not to preach. I’m not just thinking of Sunday morning, but how we live out our vocational callings as pastors and teachers of the word of God. Are we in any way placing ourselves before God? Are we in any way doing things that would make someone not experience the love of God? Are we proclaiming hate instead of love?
An interesting case study for the first day of a new year.